Upcoming Debate on Gay Marriage in France: What Is Left Unsaid On Both Sides

Poster against gay adoption
Photo: Flickr.com/istolethetv

On June 29ththe day before the Parisian Gay Pride parade, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced that “the right to marry and adopt for all would be established during the five years of the presidency.” The date still needs to be specified. Unlike several other European countries, France has not yet accepted gay marriage.

As the President François Hollande asserted previously, and was later confirmed by the government spokesperson on June 16th, gay marriage should become a reality “by the spring of 2013.” This was the 31st pledge of Hollande’s electoral platform and according to a poll published in January of this year, 63% of French citizens would be in favor of such a law.  Ayrault’s announcement only confirmed the government’s position on the issue.

The project still has many opponents, however, both politicians and citizens alike. As it demands major legal and social changes, the reform will take time and patience.

Dominique Bertinotti, minister of Family Affairs, added that “a bill would be introduced in Parliament” in 2013. In response to the concerns and restlessness of the bill’s supporters, he said that “we need time to listen and discuss, without getting stuck in debate.”

The government may be afraid of making decisions too quickly, wanting to avoid the reform being rushed through Parliament by the Socialist majority, because this would give the impression that they bypassed the opportunity for debate. Major social issues such as gay marriage need to make their way through both the civil and political world in order to avoid too wide a gap between law and custom. A real debate may be the best way for the Socialist majority in the National Assembly to gain genuine insight into the citizens’ views on the topic.

Even if this kind of social reform does not have the impact and sense of urgency that economic and structural reforms can have, it does not mean that the measure will pass easily. Beyond the confrontation that will obviously take place over the issue, giving gays and lesbians the right to marry will lead to debate about adoption, since these two conditions are demanded with equal force by the gay and lesbian community and are put forward with equal importance by the government.

Granting these two rights to couples of the same sex will require a broader reform of the legal status of the family and might open further debates that are more remotely connected to the subject. What many consider to be the traditional model of “family” is at stake.

Sociologically and legally speaking, the family offers an important framework around which revolves many structures and customs that spread to all sectors of society.

If gay marriage were adopted, it would mean, at the very least, that the two partners would have the same rights as a heterosexual couple in matters concerning children and inheritance. It would then be possible for them to adopt a child together, but their rights may not extend further.

Hollande had promised during his campaign that he would give a person the right to adopt the child of their life companion, without discrimination based on sexual orientation. For example, in a couple of two women in which one woman has had a child by artificial insemination, the other woman would be able to adopt the child freely.

Some believe that instituting this measure would be going down a slippery slope. Many organizations want to radically disassociate the law from the traditional model of the family: it is already possible for a person to adopt the child of their spouse. Whether the spouse is a woman or a man, many do not have a problem with this adoption policy as long as one of them is the actual parent of the child, who would then have a father or mother elsewhere.

The issue becomes more complicated when a child is not biologically related to either parent.  Two men could use the help of a woman as a surrogate mother, and the three of them could be considered as the legal parents of the child. It is important to note that in France, unlike the United States, surrogacy is illegal, and therefore artificial insemination is strictly controlled. While religious authorities oppose artificial insemination because they call for the respect of life as a creation of God, the French government also refuses to authorize surrogate mothers for a different reason, asserting that no one should make money by trading their body.

Beyond the debate on gay marriage, such modifications could allow a stepfather or stepmother to become the parent of a child that already has two parents, creating a blended family. Marriage and parenting could also be legally separated, eliminating the model of the family, creating the possibility for a multitude of situations that could become very complicated.

One must acknowledge that models such as the family, even when we agree on their construction as models rather than laws, tend to remain as important landmarks. To give these rights to homosexuals or to blended families is a consequence of social change, but is not necessarily a solution by itself.

Being very careful, Hollande and his team previously refused the idea of a child having more than two parents, but considered that a special status could be given to a third person, or perhaps even more people.

Despite the attempts of the government to be cautious, however, opposing parties still remain worried.

Ten years after the heated debate over the Pacte Civil de Solidarité (PACS), the French equivalent of civil unions that is used as a substitute for an actual gay marriage, the same opponents raise their voices against this new measure.

Christine Boutin, former minister, can be considered the leading figure of this opposition. She asserted that she was ready to “put up resistance.” According to her, “this is a change of civilization, for all societies are based on the difference between sexes. I do not question the love between two persons of the same sex, but if one adopts the point of view of the child, all of the desire of the adults cannot be fulfilled… exceptions cannot become legal norms.” Similar to Boutin’s argument, many people say that they are concerned by the psychological balance of a child who would be raised by parents of the same sex.

While some consider that this situation would be an inherent problem, others adopt a more moderate view, putting forth the argument that social acceptance would be the more serious issue for the child. Supporters of a gay couple’s right to adopt assert that a child find themselves in a negative situation in a heterosexual family and that the issue of whether the family is a positive influence on the child is more important than the sex of the parents.

In their optimism before Hollande’s election, the supporters of gay marriage, but especially of gay adoption, seemed to forget that it will be almost impossible for gays to adopt abroad, given that abroad often means in countries where homosexuality is sometimes still considered a crime.

Opponents who want to be part of this national debate avoid being perceived as homophobes. When it comes to political debates in France, arguments that often voice religious concerns are tacitly rejected and would disqualify anybody who used them. As a matter of fact, such debates usually focus on the well-being of the child. But below the visibility of the media, the religious arguments which are so well concealed emerge from underneath the surface.

Outside the political realm, two visions possible of family confront one another, and the reactions tend to be very aggressive as can be seen in the comment sections on many news websites.

No matter what their official arguments are, the two sides are clearly divided. On the one hand, some think that love, good care, and good will are the only qualifications necessary to be a parent. On the other hand, others consider for religious or conservative reasons, that the very structure of our society would be jeopardized by questioning one of its main pillars, the family.

Several organizations also condemned the possibility of gay marriage as a break in the link that family establishes between nature and culture, as well as a fear that assisted reproduction would also become possible. This argument resonates with others who tend to question the difference made between nature and nurture, and also between sex and gender.

These complications explain why the government and the Minister of Family Affairs needed the advice of the Superior Council for Adoption, as well as the opinion of the Council of State, before the bill can reach Parliament. As a result, the specifics of the issues being debated still need to be articulated, making it unlikely that the bill regarding gay marriage will be passed quickly or easily.

The Prime Minister’s team also asserted that every administration of civil servants, at any level, would be “informed on this objective of equality and of fighting against all the homophobic prejudices that pave the way for violence and exclusion that can no longer be tolerated.”

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  1. […] weekend’s demonstrations were the culmination of a long-lasting battle. For weeks, the opponents of same-sex marriage have been occupying public space and have been all over the media. These activists decided they would no longer let their opinion be overshadowed by François […]

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